Life Extension Magazine®

Issue: Oct 2018

Stop the Breast Cancer Epidemic

Each year, more than 300,000 American women are diagnosed with breast cancer and approximately 40,000 die from metastatic diseases. Lifestyle factors can greatly decrease cancer risk. Synthetic hormone drugs that long ago showed serious side effects continue to be widely prescribed. For women suffering menopausal issues who don’t want to apply estrogen drugs, or can’t find a doctor to prescribe bioidentical estrogen, a new plant extract has shown remarkable benefits in human studies.

By William Faloon

William Faloon
William Faloon

Breast cancer is the most prevalent malignancy in women. Healthy lifestyle choices can substantially reduce risk.

Menopausal women, however, continue to use hormone drugs that were long ago shown to increase breast cancer risk.

Premarin® is a drug that contains estrogens unnatural to the human body.

While Premarin® alone does not appear to increase the risk of breast cancer,1 the FDA obstructs women’s access to what we believe are safer forms of natural estrogens, like estriol.

The hormone drugs that concern us most are synthetic progestogens that continue to be prescribed, despite evidence that they can increase breast cancer risk.2-4

Back in the early 1990s, we published findings from studies showing that natural progesterone provided benefits to menopausal and postmenopausal woman (including reduced breast cancer risk) in contrast to a synthetic progestogen (medroxyprogesterone acetate).5,6

Our recommendation was bolstered in 2002 and 2004 with publications from the Women’s Health Initiative showing higher breast cancer incidence in women prescribed synthetic progestogens (with or without Premarin®).1,2

Our concerns about the risks posed by FDA-approved hormone drugs have remained largely consistent for the past 25 years.

Life Extension® advocates for the use of bioidentical hormones as opposed to horse urine-derived estrogens and synthetic progestogens.

On page 28 of this month’s issue, we describe an alternative for those women who choose not to replace hormones lost to menopause.

This editorial describes what women can do to reduce their breast cancer risk.

What you need to know

Menopause substantially increases the risk of breast cancer by decreasing hormone production. Hormone drugs are ubiquitously prescribed to combat decline, however not all hormone drugs are safe and effective. This article will discuss important details about female hormone replacement that every aging female should know about.

The Estrogen Dilemma

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As women enter their menopausal years they face a difficult decision.

Their bodies’ production of estrogen, progesterone and other youth-promoting hormones, like DHEA, rapidly declines.

While individual effects of menopause vary, most women suffer because their glands no longer produce the hormones needed to regulate critical physiological processes.

Depression, irritability, and short-term memory lapses are common menopausal complaints, along with hot flashes, night sweats, and insomnia.

Synthetic hormone drugs that were once widely prescribed have been shown to produce deadly side effects, yet they remain on the market courtesy of the FDA.

More women now seek natural hormone replacement strategies to find relief from menopausal symptoms.

Rather than repeat what we’ve written since the early 1990s about safer ways to replace female hormones, we performed an analysis of recent published data.

These latest findings help corroborate what we wrote 25 years ago.

It is now crystal clear that women can better balance risk with benefit by using bioidentical hormones or plant extracts that have menopausal relief properties.

Hormone Drugs Increase Certain Breast Cancer Types
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Breast cancer is a generic term that describes a wide range of malignancies that originate in breast tissues.

Some descriptive terms you may have heard relating to type of breast cancer cells are “estrogen receptor positive,” “HER2-positive,” or “triple negative.”

Triple negative means there is no receptor for estrogen, progesterone, or human epidermal growth factor (HER2), which makes “triple negative” breast cancers very difficult to treat.

An analysis published in 2017 reviewed a number of breast cancer risk factors. The findings showed that, compared to those who never took the treatment, women prescribed conventional estrogen + synthetic progestogen drugs had a striking 2.92-fold increase in luminal A breast tumors.10 Anywhere between 30%-70% of all breast cancers are this subtype.11-14

Interestingly, use of these same hormone drugs resulted in a 12% lower rate of HER2-positive and 8% lower rate of triple negative breast cancer subtypes.

As it relates to estrogen-progestogen drug use, the authors of the study concluded:

“Hormone therapy use was strongly associated with risk of luminal-like breast cancer, and less so with risk of HER2-positive or triple-negative cancer.”10

The findings from this study showing slightly lower risk of more difficult-to-treat breast cancers appear to be outweighed by the almost 3-fold increase in more common breast cancer types.

Evidence From 2002-2017

A scientist frustrated with the lack of consensus about menopausal hormone therapy wrote a review article in 2017 that sought to pull together research that began with the famous Women’s Health Initiative trial in 2002.7

The Women’s Health Initiative trial was designed to test whether the beneficial associations seen in women starting hormone replacement near menopause would be found in women beyond menopause.

The trial was terminated early because most findings turned out opposite of what conventional doctors expected.

The 2002 report revealed higher breast cancer risk and no cardiovascular benefit in women prescribed the combination of horse urine-derived estrogen with a synthetic progestogen used in a commonly prescribed drug called Prempro®.2

Two years later, however, another arm of the Women’s Health Initiative trial suggested that horse urine estrogens used alone prevented coronary heart disease in women who began hormone therapy under age 60, along with a reduction in breast cancer overall.1,7

The author of this 2017 review expressed frustration that beneficial findings from this arm of the Women’s Health Initiative trial have been overlooked.7

Estrogen therapy has been available for more than 60 years for menopausal symptoms such as painful intercourse, cognitive impairment, reduced tissue atrophy, and bone density loss.1 The author of the 2017 review article sought to wrap this up by concluding:

“Critically, the ‘facts’ that most women and clinicians consider in making the decision to use, or not use, HRT (hormone replacement therapy) are frequently wrong or incorrectly applied.”7

We at Life Extension largely concur that fears of breast cancer from the 2002 report from the Women’s Health Initiative trial frightened many menopausal women away from hormone replacement therapy, including bioidentical estrogens and natural progesterone (not synthetic progestogen).

The villain in the 2002 report, based on our review of the published literature, was the synthetic progestogen (medroxyprogesterone acetate) that is used in Provera® and Prempro® drugs.

Specific Synthetic Progestogens Implicated

An analysis of 14 prior studies looked at women who used only estradiol (a natural estrogen) and compared them with women prescribed estradiol + different progestogens or natural progesterone.8

This study found no increased breast cancer risk in estradiol-only or estradiol + natural-progesterone groups.8

There were huge differences, however, based on the type of synthetic progestogen drug and how long it was used.

Women prescribed some of the most popular synthetic progestogen drugs (medroxyprogesterone, norethisterone and levonorgestrel) for less than five years had 1.39-fold increased odds of breast cancer.8

Women who used these synthetic progestogens for more than five years had 2.25-fold increased odds of breast cancer.8

Medroxyprogesterone is the synthetic progestogen used in Provera® and Prempro® (combination of horse-urine estrogens and progestogens).

Provera® and Prempro® have been leading drugs prescribed long-term to women in all phases of menopause. As it related to use of synthetic progestogen drugs, the authors of this analysis concluded:

“The breast cancer risk rises progressively by prolonged use, furthermore, comparing to sequential therapy, continuous therapy carries a higher risk.”8
Evaluating Long-Term Menopause Hormone Therapy

A review released in January 2017 sought to tie together a large number of previous studies that looked at conventional hormone therapies.16

The review included 22 studies involving 43,637 women. Nearly 70% of the data came from two well-conducted studies published in 1998. This meant the majority of women were likely prescribed horse urine-derived estrogens with a synthetic progestogen.

Most participants were postmenopausal American women over 60 years of age with some pre-existing chronic disorders.

Some of the adverse findings from this pooled group of women who mostly used continuous estrogen + synthetic-progestogen drugs were:16

  • Increased risk of a coronary event (after one year’s use) from two per 1,000 to between three and seven per 1,000;

  • Venous thromboembolism (after one year’s use) from two per 1,000 to between four and 11 per 1,000;

  • Stroke (after three years’ use) from six per 1,000 to between six and 12 per 1,000;

  • Breast cancer (after 5.6 years’ use) from 19 per 1,000 to between 20 and 30 per 1,000;

  • Gallbladder disease (after 5.6 years’ use) from 27 per 1,000 to between 38 and 60 per 1,000;

  • Death from lung cancer after 5.6 years’ use (plus 2.4 years’ additional follow-up) from five per 1,000 to between six and 13 per 1,000;

  • Estrogen-only hormone therapy increased the risk of venous thromboembolism (after one to two years’ use) from two per 1,000 to two to 10 per 1,000; after seven years’ use, from 16 per 1,000 to 16 to 28 per 1,000;

  • Stroke (after seven years’ use) from 24 per 1,000 to between 25 and 40 per 1,000.

None of these adverse findings are surprising in light of what we now know about the significant side effects associated with the synthetic progestogen (medroxyprogesterone) used by most of these women and the pro-thrombotic (clotting) impact of high-dose estrogen.

Synthetic hormone drugs are not the only risk factors for breast cancer, as you are reading in this editorial.

Mammogram Density Change with Estrogen-Progestin Drugs

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In women with dense breast tissue, it’s more difficult to detect tumors using mammograms.

Researchers sought to ascertain if estrogen + synthetic progestogen drug therapy increases mammographic density and breast cancer incidence.

This case-control study looked at postmenopausal women randomly assigned to daily conjugated equine (horse-urine) estrogen 0.625 mg + synthetic progestogen (medroxyprogesterone acetate 2.5 mg) or placebo.9

Among women in the estrogen + synthetic progestogen arm, each 1% positive change in mammographic density increased breast cancer risk 3%.

For women in the highest quintile of mammographic density change (>19.3% increase), breast cancer risk increased a startling 3.6-fold.9

What was discovered in this study, however, is that the estrogen + synthetic-progestogen drugs only increased breast cancer in women who also showed increased mammographic density.9

The authors concluded by stating:

“All of the increased risk from estrogen plus progestin use was mediated through mammographic density change.”9

These findings suggest that women using hormone replacement drugs should make sure they are not increasing mammographic density.

This study adds to a growing body of published evidence for women to avoid synthetic progestogens (and if for no other reason than common sense, to avoid horse urine-derived estrogens when natural-to-the-human-body estrogens are available).

Menopausal Hormone Therapy and Reproductive Cancer Risk

A nationwide Swedish population-based study was done on more than 290,000 women (age 40 and over) that compared those who had used menopausal hormone therapy with those who had not.

The results, published in 2017, found a 31% higher incidence of breast, endometrial or ovarian cancer in women who used any menopausal hormone therapy compared to the general Swedish population.15

The greatest incidence of these cancers occurred in women who had used an estrogen + synthetic progestogen, which corresponds with previous studies showing synthetic progestogens, and not estrogen itself, is the culprit.

This large study also found that women using estrogen have lower rates of gastrointestinal cancers. This Swedish study concluded:

“MHT [menopausal hormone therapy], notably EP-MHT [estrogen-synthetic progestogen], was associated with a limited increase in overall cancer risk. The increased risk of female reproductive organ cancers was almost balanced by a decreased risk of gastro-intestinal cancers.”15

As you will read later, studies published in 2017 are showing estrogen by itself has interesting protective mechanisms against digestive tract cancers.

Obesity-Associated Breast Cancer

There is a strong association between increased body mass index (BMI) and higher breast cancer incidence in postmenopausal women. Also, obese women are at higher risk of all-cause and breast cancer-specific mortality when compared to non-obese women with breast cancer.17

Some factors that obese women have to contend with are very high levels of estrogens due to excessive aromatization activity in fat tissues.17

In obese postmenopausal women with estrogen-receptor positive tumors, estrogen replacement therapy should be discontinued18 and the aromatase-inhibitor drug letrozole should be initiated.19,20

Other factors that fuel breast tumors in overweight women are:17

  • Overexpression of inflammatory cytokines
  • Insulin resistance
  • Activation of insulin-like growth factor (IGF) pathways
  • Fat cell-derived adipokines
  • High cholesterol
  • Excess oxidative stress

Increased blood levels of glucose,21 insulin,22 IGF,23 cholesterol,24 and inflammatory factors25 leads to accelerated tumor formation and exacerbates their aggressiveness.

These cancer cell proliferation factors suggest to us that breast cancer patients (and overweight women) should neutralize them via:

  • Anti-inflammatory drugs (aspirin) and nutrient extracts (curcumin and green tea)26-28
  • AMPK activating drugs (metformin)29 and natural products (Gynostemma pentaphyllum and hesperidin)30
  • mTOR suppressing nutrients such as Withaferin A31,32
  • Reduce intake of dietary sugars and starches33-35
  • Initiate cholesterol-lowering diet and/or drugs36-38
  • Increase intake of antioxidants39-41

In postmenopausal women who are not taking exogenous hormones, general obesity is a significant predictor for breast cancer.17,42

Women can reduce this breast cancer risk by avoiding being overweight and avoiding high-glycemic/high fat foods.17,43

Women using estrogen and synthetic progestogen hormone therapy for more than five years have elevated risks of both invasive ductal and lobular breast cancer.17 These cases have higher cancer-related mortality.

A review published in early 2018 suggests that natural progesterone-based menopausal hormone replacement therapy can help maintain bone density and, compared to synthetic progestogens, possibly reduce risk of breast cancer.44

Estrogen Reduces Liver Cancer Incidence
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Primary liver cancer is medically termed hepatocellular carcinoma. The prognosis is often grim for those diagnosed with these kinds of malignancies.

A case-control study evaluated 234 female patients treated for primary liver cancer. Researchers compared them with 282 healthy women (control subjects) over an 11-year period.59

After adjusting for other risk factors, the women who had ever used estrogen had a reduced incidence of contracting primary liver cancer.

Long-term estrogen users had a five-year age delay in contracting liver cancer (64.5 years at diagnosis in estrogen users compared to 59.2 years in non-estrogen users).

Estrogen use reduced risk of death from liver cancer by 45% and increased overall survival times amongst patients over nine months.59

This study published in 2017 correlates with previous findings showing reductions in gastrointestinal malignancies in response to menopausal estrogen therapy.60,61

Hormone Drugs Reduce Digestive Cancer Risks

While reproductive cancers (breast, endometrium, ovaries) have been found to increase in women taking estrogen + synthetic progestogen drugs, the effects of these medications on liver and digestive tract cancer risk appears to move in the opposite direction.

Another analysis published in 2017 found that women taking menopausal hormone therapy (estrogen alone or estrogen + synthetic progestogen) compared to nonusers have a:62

  • 38% reduction in esophageal adenocarcinoma
  • 43% reduction in esophageal squamous carcinoma
  • 39% reduction in stomach cancer

These findings are consisitent with other studies showing that estrogen reduces these digestive tract cancers.63,64

Role of Alcohol and Other Lifestyle Factors

A study of postmenopausal women evaluated the impact of various lifestyle factors on breast cancer incidence including alcoholic beverage consumption, body mass index, and reported levels of physical activity.

Findings from this 2017 published study revealed that, in women age 65 and over, the following lifestyle factors were associated with greater odds of breast cancer as follows:45

  • Lifetime alcohol intake: 79% increase
  • High body mass index: 83% increase
  • Low level physical activity: 31% increase

The authors concluded their 2017 report by stating:

“Interventions targeting modifiable lifestyle factors may reduce the burden of post-menopausal breast cancer among older women.”45

As it relates to alcohol consumption, this represents a troublesome conundrum, as some studies show that those who abstain completely from alcohol have shorter lifespans, often related to increased risk of occlusive arterial disorders such as ischemic stroke.46-48

Even moderate alcohol consumption has been shown in previous studies to increase breast cancer risk, however.49-51

How to Neutralize Deadly Estrogen Metabolites

One cancer-causing mechanism of alcohol is how it impacts the way the body metabolizes estrogens, specifically the 2/16 a hydroxyestrone ratio.

High levels of 16 a hydroxy-estrone have been correlated to greater risk of breast cancer.52-54

Consumption of cruciferous vegetables containing compounds like indole-3-carbinol (I3C) enables the body to convert estrogens into more 2-hydroxyestrone which has a far weaker estrogen effect than 16 a -hydroxyestrone.55

Other studies show that higher alcohol consumption increases estradiol levels in pre- and postmenopausal women.56-58

The consistency of findings relating alcohol intake to higher and more dangerous estrogen metabolites points to the importance of testing one’s urinary levels of total estrogens including 2-hydroxyestrone and 16 a -hydroxyestrone.

If blood or urinary levels of estrogens and/or metabolites (such as 16 a -hydroxyestrone) are imbalanced in women who choose to continue drinking alcohol, then perhaps the use of an estrogen drug should be discontinued.

Women with elevated 16 a-hydroxyestrone should eat more cruciferous vegetables or take supplements that provide plant extracts such as I3C.

Blood and Urine Tests To Measure Estrogens
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Many readers of this publication have annual blood tests to evaluate their levels of hormones including estradiol, progesterone, and DHEA. These are included in the popular Female Panel.

For women seeking a more elaborate review of their hormone status as it relates to many of the risk factors described in this editorial, a Female Hormone Replacement Panel blood test is available for $189.

Women seeking an even more comprehensive review of their overall hormone status, including estriol, 2-hydroxyestrone,16 a-hydroxyestrone (and many others), can order a Complete Hormone Profile urine test for $299.

A review of the many tests included in each of these two hormone profiles can be found at LifeExtension.com/estrogens

To order these blood or urine tests today, call 1-800-208-3444 (24 hours).

What Should Hormone-Deprived Women Do?

We at Life Extension have long advocated for a compounded estrogen drug that consists of about 80% estriol and 20% estradiol.

This ideally should be in the form of a cream that is rubbed on to the skin for direct absorption into the bloodstream.

In response to a petition filed by a pharmaceutical company, the FDA has obstructed the use of the estriol form of estrogen. This provided the company who lobbied the FDA with a more exclusive market to sell their horse urine-derived estrogen drug (Premarin®).

We suggest that synthetic progestogens should be avoided and natural (bioidentical) progesterone cream applied as per our Female Hormone Replacement protocol (www.LifeExtension.com/female).

A Flawed Backdated Analysis
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In July 2002, the world was shocked to learn of findings from the Women’s Health Initiative study showing women using horse urine-derived estrogen and synthetic progestogens had small increases in breast cancer, heart attacks, strokes, and blood clots.65

The Women’s Health Initiative is a long-term national health study focused on strategies for preventing heart disease, breast and colorectal cancer, and osteoporotic fractures in postmenopausal women. Launched in 1993, the Women’s Health Initiative enrolled 161,808 women aged 50-79 into one or more randomized clinical trials.66

Findings from the Women’s Health Initiative, which was supported by the National Institutes of Health, resulted in letters being mailed to women prescribed horse urine-derived estrogen and synthetic progestogens warning them to stop taking the drugs because the risks outweighed the benefits.65

Follow-up studies and analyses later showed these risks were most likely caused by the synthetic progestogen used in Provera® and Prempro®.

As I finalized this article, a retrospective analysis was published that would appear to contradict what you’ve read about the risks associated with synthetic progestogens.67

This backdated analysis of patient records renders its findings highly suspect for reasons that include:

Unlike the Women’s Health Initiative, this retroactive analysis was not a placebo-controlled study. It instead looked at women who followed more than one hormone therapy protocol. As a default, the analysis assigned each woman to the hormone protocol of longest duration. This is an invalid approach, since the type of drug and duration of usage overlapped, which creates residual confounding (distorted data).

Drug dosage was frequently unavailable, so the analysis made the assumption that each of the nine different hormone therapy categories had a similar pattern of drug usage. This is an invalid assumption, and creates residual confounding because bioidentical hormone replacement has a very different individualized dosage pattern than use of the one-size-fits-all conventional hormone approaches with synthetic progestogens and (usually) conjugated equine estrogen (horse-derived estrogen) drugs.

The analysis included data as far back as 1983 when very few women used or had even heard of bioidentical (natural to the human body) hormones.

Beyond the technical jargon, perhaps the strongest reason this contradictory analysis should be disregarded is that the Women’s Health Initiative was a much larger study that was tightly-controlled, vetted, and reanalyzed over the past 16 years with consistent findings. The results of this backdated analysis claiming that horse estrogen combined with synthetic progestogens reduce breast cancer risk is contrary to most additional data available on the topic, yet high quality data remain elusive.

Findings from the Women’s Health Initiative have changed the way healthcare providers prevent and treat some of the major diseases impacting postmenopausal women. Results from the Women’s Health Initiative Hormone Trials have been estimated to have saved $35.2 billion in direct medical costs in the United States alone.66

Summary

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The data described in this article help corroborate Life Extension’s longstanding position to avoid synthetic progestogen drugs.

Natural progesterone cream makes a lot more sense as it relates to protecting against estrogen-induced cancers and helping to maintain bone density.

For women suffering menopausal issues who don’t want to use estrogen, or can’t find a doctor to properly prescribe bioidenticals, a new plant extract has shown remarkable benefits in human studies.

To read the science behind this new botanical formulation, turn to page 28 of this month’s issue.

For longer life,

For Longer Life

William Faloon, Co-Founder

Life Extension Buyers Club

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